July 11, 2013, 3:14 PM — Avi Reichental, president and CEO of 3D Systems, says the man behind the 3D-printed gun has done the 3D-printing industry a service.
Speaking at the Inside 3D Printing conference in Chicago, Reichental discussed the 3D-printed gun from a manufacturing standpoint. After showing video of 3D-printed gun discussions in mainstream media, namely the HBO news and commentary show Real Time with Bill Maher, Reichental explained that Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed and developer of the world's first operational 3D-printed gun, represents the possibilities of 3D printing on society at large.
Politics aside, what's remarkable about the 3D-printed gun is not necessarily that people can make weapons in their homes, Reichental said. Those who are skilled enough with metal or plastic machinery have had this possibility for decades, he added.
But what the 3D-printed gun signifies on a larger scale is the democratization of craftsmanship, Reichental said. Equipped with 3D printers, everyday people can simply download a file and create an object that, in the past, might require years of training in engineering or manufacturing to build.
Judging by recent developments, he has a point. While most of the discussion has revolved around the controversial topic of 3D-printed firearms, this dynamic has also been applied to more altruistic purposes.
Two years ago, South African inventor Richard van As lost four fingers on his right hand in a woodworking accident. After learning that the prosthetics available to him would leave his right hand, which is his dominant hand, impaired for his life, he turned to 3D printing to create his own prosthetic. With some eventual help from MakerBot, van As was able to create an operational 3D-printed prosthetic for his fingers, which he later dubbed the "Robohand." Since then, the Robohand has been used to replace fingers on four children in South Africa, and just last month the project reached its $10,000 funding goal on an Indiegogo campaign.
Currently, access to the design files for the 3D-printed gun is no available. The U.S. State Department confiscated the files and forced Defense Distributed to remove them from its website just days after they were released. But Wilson has nevertheless sparked a widespread discussion on the possibilities of 3D printing, a discussion that Reichental hopes will lead to more projects like the Robohand.
Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is email@example.com.
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